AWS Government Innovation and Transformation – Go Digital or Go Home

How leading public sector organizations are harnessing the AWS Cloud for building cultures and practices of rapid digital innovation

Accelerating Digital Innovation

In the feature video, Stephen Orban, General Manager of “Something New”, AWS Marketplace, provides an update review of the AWS platform, covering the latest news about their full suite of products.

Previously CIO with Dow Jones Stephen kicks off with an overview of their shift to AWS, retelling the story of how their transition from on-premise legacy technologies to the Cloud enabled them to ratchet up their release cycle from a rigid twice-weekly, problematic cycle to a new mode of constant and frequent updates.

Beginning at 17m:15s, Bernie Gracy, Chief Digital Officer for Agero, walks through a detailed case study presentation of how they too have embraced AWS to achieve this same transformation.

Agero is one of those mostly unknown but massive businesses, responding to one in three road side breakdowns and processing ten million requests a year.

Go Digital or Go Home

They are a classic example of the threats traditional companies face from the new disruptive digital world, where trends such as Uber taxis and car subscriptions vs ownership are entirely changing their industry landscape.

At 20m:20s Bernie describes this threat as a need to ‘Go Digital or Go Home’, how they have responded to the challenge through wholesale transformation of the role of technology in their organization, encouraging and enabling a culture where ‘every one is an innovator’, seeing the world through a new lens of new capabilities and thus a new possible.

In particular he disputes the analysts ideal of ‘bi-modal IT’, where legacy systems are treated as untouchable black boxes and innovation is focused on a new tier of separated applications. Instead they decomposed their 15 year old monolith application previously dedicated to call centre agents, into 200 microservices that could be orchestrated by any facet of their new platform.

With innovation as everyone’s job, new ideas bubbled up that presented them with insights into new market opportunities, which the more agile technology approach made possible to exploit. For example through a focus on ‘adjacent’ sectors alongside their core capabilities, they expanded new digital capabilities across their value ecosystem, creating a new app for crash detection that over 300,000 customers downloaded and used, optimizing their algorithms.

This was built using Lamda Serverless technologies, enabling them to focus on the value generating business logic and the use of Machine Learning to build a smart app, with AWS handling the underlying, non-value adding infrastructure elements.

It also included transforming the customer experience, such as the use of telematics to enable roadside assistance built directly into the car itself as well as a range of mobile app innovations that are made possible through the exposure of their API to partners like insurance providers, for which they won the award of Omnichannel Application of the Year.

This heightened rate of innovation change is articulately captured through this single tweet from the event :

AWS for Government

The tier one Cloud providers like AWS have tailored their services for the public sector, enabling governments to also adopt these same innovation capabilities and accelerated rates of deployment.

For example data security is usually the first concern raised and AWS has taken a number of steps to address this requirement, aligning their services to the documented standards for the Canadian Government, as well as for the UK G-Cloud, and developing relevant services such as Secure Network Connections from their experiences of working with the USA Government.

Blueprint for a Digital Nation

In this interview with Silicon Angle Teresa Carlson, Worldwide VP for AWS Public Sector, discusses the impact of AWS on the public sector, headlined by the ideal their regional expansions are about far more than just bringing yet another new technology supplier to that market.

Instead they seek to bring a ‘Blueprint for a Digital Nation’, a holistic framework for broad societal transformation that encompasses enablement of social entrepreneurship, increased diversity, job skills training at colleges and templates for new government acquisition methods.

Transforming Procurement and Culture

Speaking at the AWS 2015 summit Mark Schwartz (Twitter) explores how Government organizations can adopt this new culture of rapid innovation, challenging the core idea that you can’t innovate in large enterprise Federal Government.

He defines the core measurement relevant to this goal: Speed – The lead time from realizing there is a mission need to deploying the required capability. Cloud speeds that deployment and reduces that time cycle.

More importantly Mark has been considering the broader organizational challenges and how they can be overcome to unleash the unused potential for expanded innovation in the public sector, chiefly by focusing on and transforming procurement and subsequently, culture too.

Highlighting that some procurement initiatives can take years and decades to complete, Mark says the way to address this systemic slowness of procurement and change control bureaucracies, is to transform them using these Cloud ideals.

At Immigration they have put in place a Continuous Delivery system that is always in operation, applying automated testing and public Cloud provisioning to all the code that is fed in. This enables them to work with a much higher frequency of smaller volumes of new system requirements, and be in a continual state of always deploying these new features to production at a high rate. In short to work at a higher rate of innovation.

The especially powerful effect of this approach is that it greatly lowers the cost and risk of experimentation.

As a consequence every one across the organization can be encouraged to be more innovative, to try out new ideas by putting in the code requests and spinning up the prototype applications.

With the public sector having a notorious reputation for a high price for project failures it’s no surprise risk aversion can be a strong force to overcome to drive innovative change. By lowering this price and visibly setting a cultural tone of encouraged experimentation, these systemic dynamics can be addressed and a enterprise-wide culture of innovation unleashed.

Government at Scale – Moving out of the basement

In the UK notable customer examples include the DVLA, utilizing AWS to more rapidly pioneer new digital service innovations, such as the MOT service that processes 42 million transactions annually and the Commercial Vehicle Operator licence.

Others include the Ministry of Justice. Niall Creech previously Head of Cloud Engineering, provides this excellent case study of the type of benefits Scottish agencies can seek from doing so, documenting their move to the AWS Cloud as shifting to Government at Scale.

Other agencies like the Home Office are also seeking to replicate the move.

Niall makes the point that in today’s IT world there is little value to be had in operating traditional data centres any more, and moving to the Cloud represents “moving out of the basement”.

Agile Infrastructure

It’s not simply a process of outsourcing, transferring the same technology paradigm from in-house to an external supplier, but of harnessing an entirely new capability all together.

The case study offers a very articulate definition of how Cloud provides an ‘Agile Infrastructure’. Instead of just migrating the same virtual servers to IaaS, Niall describes how they have embraced Cloud Native building blocks, such as containerized applications, serverless functions and elastic storage, to make possible more dynamic and agile provisioning and management of IT infrastructure. For example all live services have the ability to have any of their servers destroyed without notice, with no alerts and no user impact.

By creating apps through composing together AWS services as building blocks, and automating deployment through nested stack templates the team are able to abstract themselves away from low level administrative work, enabling a focus on value generating digital services, not IT operations:

We were also quick to understand the value of freeing people from maintenance, data security, and disaster recovery that key managed services like Amazon RDS gives.

Even with high degrees of automation, maintaining a growing infrastructure places a burden on an organisation that can hold it back from achieving its core aim, developing and providing people with the digital services they need from modern government.

Cost Savings

Other case studies include Derby City Council, who have similarly moved out of the basement to drive cost reduction of on-premise software licencing, among other benefits including:

  • achieved significant reductions in total ICT spend
  • improved server monitoring and optimisation
  • the ability to respond more flexibly to changing business needs
  • transferred repetitive tasks, such as server patching, to a supplier
  • reduced the time, effort and cost to procure and manage new services
  • accessed suppliers with niche skills that traditional outsourcing would exclude

Similarly the DWP saved £20m a year by migrating their ‘Tell Us Once’ digital service away from a single, non-extendable managed contract. This case study also highlights the agile nature of the G-Cloud procurement process too; under very tight timescales they were able to utilize the fast-moving process to secure the deal in only 8 weeks.

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